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How well are the children?

SoVaNow.com / August 20, 2014


This 2014-2015 school year convocation speech by Dr. James Thornton, superintendent of Mecklenburg County Public Schools, was submitted to The Sun this week for publication in Viewpoint — Ed.



In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you will be criticized anyway.” Far too often, our profession as educators is criticized. This morning I want to share with you how we need to stand together for our children and for our county. I say to you after watching our students this morning, “We know how to teach our students how to research, how to take responsibility for their own learning, and how to present their knowledge?” I would put our students up against anyone in the state. I would put our teachers up against anyone in the state. So let me ask you a question, professional educators, why do we allow people to disrespect our school division, our hard working employees, and most of all our children?

I believe no matter what new tests the state and politicians throw our way that we will come together. We will unpack the standards, align our curriculum, and we will be successful not only with a standardized test but 21st century skills as well.

We will figure it out! But what I will not let happen, is to allow one measurement to determine our successes and dictate all that we do to educate our children. This has happened in too many counties across Virginia in the past, and is starting to happen again. Deeper learning has reenergized our students and has given them a voice. They are becoming problem solvers, creative thinkers, collaborative team players, and presenters of knowledge. You, our educators, are becoming problem solvers, creative innovators, collaborative team players, life-long learners, and facilitators of knowledge. Together, we are allowing students to take risks and make mistakes. Together, we are slowly allowing ourselves to take risks and make mistakes. Some of the greatest lessons come from the process of trying something new and failing. In the real world, it is all about first, second, and third drafts that lead to beautiful, quality work.

People who want to steal our dignity and our professionalism are using our slogan, “How Well Are the Children”, against us. This phrase came from a culture where all adults asked about the children every time they greeted someone. We thought, wouldn’t it be great if in our culture we could do the same? Despite what some might say, our students are succeeding. Our students still have to pass six of these tests to graduate with a standard diploma, and nine of these tests to graduatewith an advanced diploma. If we are doing such a bad job, then how do we have our highest rate of graduates receiving an Associate’s Degree diploma? How do we have our highest rate of students receiving an Advanced Studies diploma? How do we have our highest rate of students with disabilities receiving standard or advanced diplomas ever? How do we have the highest rate of students attending four year colleges? How do we have students like these presenters we witnessed this morning, eloquently modeling 21st century learning skills? As a profession and school division, we have been the target of much criticism and negativity this year. My challenge to us all for this new school year is to focus on the children and the incredible positive outcomes happening in our district because of your hard work and dedication.

This year I want us all to recommit ourselves individually and collectively to fighting for our dignity as professional educators. I am extremely proud of all of you, and I want you to feel proud to work for Mecklenburg County Schools. We are professional educators who deserve to be valued. We have the most important job in this county. When we allow ourselves to be the target of unwarranted and inaccurate criticism without speaking up, we are silently validating the information. We can do better than this. We deserve better than this. Our children deserve better than this. Let’s come together this year with a renewed dedication to celebrating what is good in our great school division, while committing to continuous improvement.

Everyone in this room is a professional educator and leader of children. A professional education-leader believes, “You should strive to be a top performer and pursue life, love, and happiness.” This is my goal for each of you. You deserve to be treated with dignity. You do not deserve the endless criticism and negativity that has surrounded our division recently. My promise to each of you is to stand up for you as the professionals that you are deserving of the highest respect and dignity. I am going to make a statement of dignity this year for you and for our county. We make a difference in the lives of our students. I ask that you do the same. You make a statement of dignity to yourself and the teaching profession when you acknowledge and accept that you make a difference for our children.

Demand the respect you deserve. Let’s become a collective voice for all of our children. Do not be afraid to use your voice. Be proud of what you do, have high expectations for your students and yourself, and be a professional education-leader.

I remain honored to serve as your superintendent and wish you a wonderful 2014-15 school year. We can do this together.

Our children are counting on us. They deserve to be educated in a community where we are all proud to say WE ARE MECKLENBURG AND OUR CHILDREN ARE ALL WELL!!!

Dr. James Thornton



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